The new Comparative Negligence Bill Expected to Reform NC Contributory Negligence Law will have to wait until next year. The third version of the bill was sent to the Judiciary Committee on May 19, 2001 but failed to be heard during this year’s legislative session.
You might be surprised to learn who is behind the push to move North Carolina from a contributory negligence state to a comparative negligence state. It’s attorneys! Primary sponsors of the House Bill are Rick Glazier, an attorney from Cumberland County, John Blust, an attorney/accountant from Guilford County, Deborah Ross, an attorney from Wake County, and Bonner Stiller, an attorney from Brunswick County.
According to US Tort Liability Index: 2010 Report put out by Pacific Research North Carolina ranks 3rd just behind Alaska and Hawaii in tort costs and law. The Report attempts to measure which states have the highest and lowest tort liability costs. The worst? New Jersey with New York and Florida joining it in the bottom three.
The Report goes on to classify states as either saints, sinners, salvageable, or suckers based on tort litigation risks, lawsuit awards, and the strength of tort laws on the books.
The saints: Alaska, Kansas, Louisiana, Ohio, and South Carolina.
The sinners: Alabama, California, Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The salvageables: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.
The suckers: Idaho, Iowa, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Virginia.
Want to know more see the full Report at http://www.pacificresearch.org/docLib/20100525_Tort_Liability_Index_2010.pdf
HB 813 has now passed the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate Judiciary I Committee. Should the bill pass it will be the end of contributory negligence in North Carolina. Currently only five jurisdictions including N.C. retain the doctrine of contributory negligence.
Under the contributory negligence doctrine, a plaintiff cannot recover from a defendant in a tort action if the plaintiff is even one percent responsible for his or her own injuries. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argue that the doctrine is unfair and that it only remains the law in N.C. due to heavy lobbying by the insurance companies who reap the rewards by not having to pay out claims. Insurance companies argue that changing from a contributory negligence state to a comparative negligence state will cause insurance premiums to go up stating that currently N.C. has the sixth lowest premiums of any state in the country. However, Scott Sexton points out in an article for the Winston Salem Journal that state Insurance Commissioner Jim Long has to approve any rate increases and that he is the real reason N.C. insurance rates remain among the lowest in the country not because the state is a contributory negligence state.
So how would negligence be apportioned if we do away with contributory negligence? Under HB 813 N.C. would become a modified comparative negligence state. Under a pure comparative negligence doctrine fault is directly apportioned based on the degree of fault for each party. For instance if in a tort action if the plaintiff is 90% at fault and the defendant is 10% at fault the plaintiff can still recover for the defendant’s 10% negligence. Under a modified approach, recovery is barred if the plaintiff is 50% or more responsible for his or her own injuries.